School Mental Health Team provides a n overview of Mental Health Resources and Supports

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mental health
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School Mental Health Team provides a n overview of Mental Health Resources and Supports available for students

Algoma District School Board (ADSB) trustees were provided an update on mental health supports in place for ADSB students at the Committee of the Whole meeting held on Tuesday, October 5th. Members of ADSB’s School Mental Health (SMH) team including Mental Health Lead Darryl Fillmore and School and Attendance counsellors Christina Williams, Karli-Rae Lee and Shawna Wilson, joined the meeting virtually. They reviewed highlights from the 20/21 school year, shared data from the 2021 Summer Wellness program and explained priorities the SMH team will be looking at in the coming months.

Despite the challenges of school closures during the 20/21 school year, the SMH team was able to connect with a large number of students. Although some students had their needs met with only a session or two, the average number of sessions per student was approaching eight, indicating some very in-depth work was occurring with students across the district. Over half (56%) of the sessions were delivered remotely (i.e. utilizing audio or secured video connections) while 44% of the sessions were delivered in person.

Although students seek counselling for a wide variety of reasons, the top presenting issue continues to be anxiety followed by mood management and attendance issues. These three areas of concern are not unique to Algoma District as students across the province seem to be showing similar trends. ADSB counsellors have done and continue to do an excellent job responding, without waitlists, to all students requiring support regardless of the presenting issue. If the challenge proves to be outside the scope of school-based mental health supports, staff call upon community partners to assist.

ADSB successfully completed their fourth year of the Rebound Mentorship Program, in-partnership with Algoma Family Services (AFS). This program teaches and reinforces social and life skills that enable young people to make sound decisions, communicate effectively, and develop a sense of personal responsibility. Geography is not a barrier as grade 7 and 8 classrooms anywhere from Hornepayne to Elliot Lake were able to access the program and senior high school students, working alongside AFS program facilitators, were able to mentor using virtual technology. This year, we were able to embed the program into the regular curriculum and entire classrooms were eligible to participate, as opposed to selected individuals. Senior students who complete the Rebound Mentorship Program receive a university level secondary school credit.

As shared at the September 21st Board Meeting, ADSB provided a Summer Wellness Line for the second year to students and families in need of additional support in the areas of mental health and well-being over the summer months. Counselling staff provided strategies for students coping with Covid related stress or anxiety and offered transitional supports for the return to school in September. Counsellors also completed over 500 re-engagement calls, connecting with students who had become disengaged in the final months of the 20/21 school year. Staff were able to address individual student needs for return to school and to provide transitional supports including for some, backpacks full of school supplies, and for others, school tours prior to school opening.

Algoma District School Board continues to access excellent resources provided by School Mental Health Ontario (SMHO). A comprehensive Mental Health Learning Package was presented in all schools during ADSB’s first Professional Development Day this September. This covered core concepts in mental health, while outlining the role of classroom educators and other school staff in supporting student well-being as they returned to school. The session also provided suggestions on what to do when staff notice a student struggling with a mental health problem including signs to watch for and where to get help when needed.

Counselor Karli Lee provided an overview of Tier 1 Programming for mental health and well-being which focuses on prevention strategies. Due to COVID restrictions during the 20/21 school year, ADSB’s School Mental Health Team had to find creative ways to interact with students. The team introduced mental health topics each week and teachers found ways to incorporate the topics, helping to promote and normalize conversations around mental health and well-being. Staff were able to incorporate daily check-ins with their students, and children were able to voluntarily speak about their emotions and to help one another by sharing coping skills that had worked for them.

Last year, ADSB’s SMH team began an intensive implementation project, undertaken as a book study, reviewing research led by Dr. John Weisz from the department of Psychiatry at Harvard University, focused on the FIRST program for behavioral and emotional problems (FIRST = “Feeling Calm; Increasing Motivation; Repairing Thoughts; Solving Problems; Trying the Opposite). This highly comprehensive and evidenced-based program became a weekly part of SMH team meetings as they engaged in a process of learning and practice. ADSB is proud to share that the efforts and best practices of the SMH team were recognized provincially by SMHO who have replicated the implementation plan and have begun piloting a similar book study model across the province. ADSB’s School Mental Health team was invited to present their virtual training program province-wide.

ADSB also introduced new program measurement processes last year with the application of Partners for Change Outcomes Management System (PCOMS) – a tool for tracking student outcomes to school-based counselling interventions. In addition, the SMH team have been tracking student satisfaction with services on a session-by-session basis.

ADSB’s Well-Being Leadership Committee will be holding their first meeting in the near future with ADSB’s new student trustees and new parents from the Parent Involvement Committee (PIC) being added to the membership. This multi-perspective group meets monthly to discuss the important issues impacting well-being within ADSB schools. This helps to ensure that student and parent voice continue to be driving forces behind how mental health and well-being supports are provided in schools.